Drawn from writer Keiji Nakazawa's true life experiences in the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, 'Barefoot Gen' tells the story of one family's struggle to survive against overwhelming odds.
Barefoot Gen: Gen Nakaoka is on his way to school when the atomic bomb detonates. He makes his way back to his home through hellish scenes of ruined buildings, corpses, and hideously mutilated survivors. Although his family is still alive, Gen and his pregnant mother are unable to free his father, sister, and brother from the rubble of their house and must leave them to burn to death. His mother goes into labor during their flight and his new sister is born amid the devastation. Holding the infant, Gen tells her to remember the horrors, so that they never occur again.
Barefoot Gen 2: Gen has lived practically his entire life in the shadow of war. Yet, in trying to aid a group of orphans to survive and find a new life, he is not prepared for the horrors which follow the bombing of Hiroshima.
Barefoot Gen is a harrowing and heart-warming tale of a boy’s story to survive the nuclear bomb dropped on his hometown of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. The film starts with setting the scene, showing what life is like for Gen growing up in Japan during World War II and the hardships he and his family must face, living on limited amounts of food and the desperations they go to, to fend for their meals, along with the constant threat of air raids. The film really does show domestic 1940’s Japan and it’s worth watching for the cultural insights alone.
Then the horrors begin and we see the true effect of the nuclear bomb dropped on Japan. This sequence is not something you will forget in a hurry (which shows the film is doing it’s job). The viewers witness people with severe burns, others with melted skin and eye balls detached from their sockets, along with shards of glass and other shrapnel from the blast embedded in their bodies. Scenes with the citizens of Hiroshima simply disintegrating before your eyes are particularly shocking. Gen of course survives, but watches as the zombie-like people wander all around him. He then goes back to his house, only to find his Mum trying to rescue his brother, sister and father from their burning house...
Gen then has to cope with the aftermath and the dynamic of the story changes to a selection of short sketches about surviving the bomb and foraging for food.
The film constantly flips between moments of incredible sadness and odd moment of amusement as Gen laughs or finds something funny. It really does tug at the heartstrings and focuses on the true side of war, the suffering of the civilians. It’s not anti-American, as it’s more concerned with the fate of people in Japan, rather than the causes of war.
The animation does look old, but in a classical way, has not dated much since from 1983, the animation is fluid and the restored print looks lovely.
Be warned though, watching cartoon characters suffer the effects of black rain and radiation poisoning are not pleasant, which is why the BBFC have giving this film a 12 rating.
The DVD also includes the Barefoot Gen 2 movie (made 1986), set 3 years after the first movie, we see Gen having to cope with a recovering Japan, buying things from the black market, being educated in the ruins of a school and dealing with homeless children. The second movie has a different animation style and a different production crew. It’s worth watching too, but is heart wrenching in a different way, if not a bit overly sentimental. It’s an excellent extra offering two movies for the price of one.
The films are based on Keiji Nakazawa semi-autobiographical manga, it does drag on in parts including scenes that don’t add anything to story or are just longer than needed. Despite these minor flaws we highly recommend this for any anime fan’s collection. The film is a welcome contrast to the standard formula anime of girls with big boobs and blue hair. It’s also a good example to show people some of the great variety of subject matter anime can handle.
Optimum have released Barefoot Gen, with a British English subtitle translation, and you’ll notice with Gen calling his mother "Mum", instead of "Mom" as anime fans in the UK will normally be used to American English translations, it does make a refreshing change.
Optimum should also be commended for teaming up with War Child an appropriate charity for this title and proceeds from the sales of this DVD will go to the charity with their campaigns.
The DVD also comes with an excellent 16 page booklet featuring an interview with Keiji Nakazawa and an essay by Jonathan Clement, along with more details of War Child.
We suggest every anime fan sees this title at least once. It’s also a valuable example for history students or those interested in the grim reality of war and its victims. War isn’t cool, people die and the heroes are not always soldiers. It’s good to see that Optimum have chosen to release Barefoot Gen in the UK, since it will have an impact on those who watch it.